How many languages does a financial crime professional need to speak?

Written by Ruth Hutchinson on Tuesday February 20, 2018

It seems not a day goes by at the moment without some mention of Bitcoin, cybercrime, political machinations, Brexit, global instability or the drivers of radicalisation, amongst other things. On top of this, there are even TV dramas about most of these subjects.

What do these developments mean for the financial crime professional? Not all of us would consider ourselves experts when it comes to IT, the Internet, global economics or politics. However financial crime professionals are experts in financial crime risk management. So when it comes to the topics of virtual currencies, cybercrime and Trumponomics to name just a few, this presents an interesting dilemma: to what extent should we be conversant in these areas in order to fully understand the financial crime risks associated with them?

Do I need to learn a new language?

Consider this. How easy is it to ask for directions when you’re travelling in a country in which you don’t speak the native tongue? Can you make yourself perfectly understood? How can you be sure you’ve understood the person giving you directions accurately? If you want to get to your destination without getting very lost along the way, mutual understanding is important.

Now picture yourself assessing the financial crime risks of virtual currencies. You need to understand the features and vulnerabilities of the product so you try and discuss this with your 15-year-old nephew who loves online gaming. You can’t speak his language and he can’t speak yours. Does this help you get to the right outcome?

Starting to think you may need to learn a new language in your financial crime role? Here’s some advice…

Work out which languages you need to speak

Think about the nature of your professional role, your personal interests and current levels of awareness. You may need to identify which common topics are worth investing a little time in simply seeking knowledge and understanding of the topic. For example, if you work in, oversee or are responsible for sanctions compliance a better understanding of changing global political situations may serve you well in forecasting how your firm’s sanctions risk landscape may evolve. If you are tasked with finding a way to monitor for potential terrorist activity, understanding the drivers of and behavioural traits underlying those at risk of radicalisation may help you design controls to spot this.

Connect with a native speaker

What better way to learn than to seek out someone who already speaks the language of the topic you’re interested in. Find a blog, social media feed or a friend or colleague and engage. A little understanding can go a long way in building capability to identify and therefore better manage financial crime risks.

Practice, practice, practice!

With such a range of issues facing financial crime practitioners every day, it can be easy to stick with what you know. Challenge yourself to move outside of your comfort zone and practice your new language. Reflect on what impact this may have on your ability to manage financial crime risk within your professional sphere of control.

Continuous improvement

In today’s global environment, we all have access to information like never before. That includes those that wish to carry out criminal endeavours. Risks continually evolve in response to new technologies, new political landscapes, new behaviours. If, as financial crime practitioners, we wish our efforts to continue to be effective we must look ahead, keep pace with change, understand its impacts and evolve our own responses.

Ruth is Head of Financial Crime Compliance at International Compliance Association. Before joining us, she was managing financial crime strategy and control for tier-one banks. Her career in banking has been centred around large Retail banks but has included a little exposure to the world of private banking and business banking. The management of PEPs (Politically Exposed People) risk has been a key focus, as has overseeing the development and implementation of target operating models to ensure sound management of risk.

How can we help?

We offer financial crime compliance courses at all levels. They can be studied online or with workshops where available.

  • ICA Certificate in Financial Crime Prevention
  • ICA Certificate in Financial Crime Risk in Mobile Financial Services
  • ICA Certificate in Financial Crime Risk in Global Banking and Markets
  • ICA Diploma in Financial Crime Prevention
  • ICA Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Crime Compliance


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